On Tuesday, February 3, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard arguments on the Family Law case of Fawzy v. Fawzy. This case was originally reported by Sandra Fava of our Roseland office this past summer when the Appellate Division determined that a court did not have the ability to permit parents to submit to binding arbitration on the issue of custody. To read Sandra’s original post, click here. To read the full text of the Appellate Division’s decision in the case, click here.
The Supreme Court granted certification. Both sides offered excellent arguments for and against the issues.
In this case, Mr. and Mrs. Fawzy agreed, in the courthouse, and in front of a judge, to submit the issue of custody to an arbitrator. As Sandra mentioned, the parties were scheduled for a trial date in early 2007. When they appeared in Court on this date, they agreed to submit all issues in contest to an arbitrator for binding, final, non-appealable arbitration pursuant to this state’s statute governing arbitration (N.J.S.A. 2A:23B1 to 32). They, along with their respective attorneys appeared before the judge that same day and placed this agreement on the record. The judge clearly advised them that the arbitrator’s decision would be final and could not be changed. The parties agreed and went forward. They went to a well respected arbitrator who specializes in family law. Subsequently, Mr. Fawzy, who did not like the way things were going, moved to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, contending that issues such as the custody of children could not be subject to arbitration. The Appellate Division agreed.
But what of the future? Arbitration can proceed with the same formality as a court trial or in some cases, with a more relaxed structure. However, the process is something that is agreed to by the parties in advance order to insure fairness. In a nutshell, the strong public policy in New Jersey is such that the Courts favor settlements between parties through alternative dispute resolution, of which arbitration is one example. In arbitration, the parties agree to have an arbitrator, rather than a judge, decide issues. There are many instances other than the matrimonial context in which arbitration is utilized and has been for many years in New Jersey. There are laws concerning the use of arbitration. However, it is only in the relatively recent past that arbitration has been commonly used to resolve matrimonial issues. This is obviously due to the sensitive nature of family proceedings. At the current time, there is no statute which specifically governs arbitration in family cases. Utilizing arbitration for custody seems to be the next logical step in alternative dispute resolution for matrimonial cases.
The central issue is whether a judge, who stand in a parens patriae, or protective role, can in effect delegate his or duty to make a determination as to custody to an arbitrator. There have been previous cases in which the courts have been prohibited from allowing a parenting coordinator from making decisions as to custody and parenting time. Is it right for litigants to be able to agree to allow a third party other than a judge the authority to make a custody determination on these issues? There are certainly arguments for and against.
Continue Reading The New Jersey Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Arbitration case